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web accessibility in education: sen and disability act 2001 martin sloan LLB (hons) post-graduate student glasgow graduate school of law email: [email protected] web accessibility in education what is Web accessibility?

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Web accessibility in education l.jpg

web accessibility in education:

sen and disability act 2001

martin sloan LLB (hons)

post-graduate student

glasgow graduate school of law

email: [email protected]

web accessibility in education

Web accessibility in education2 l.jpg
web accessibility in education

  • what is Web accessibility?

  • why and how might the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) apply to web accessibility in education?

  • what about the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA)?

  • summary and final thoughts

web accessibility in education

What is web accessibility l.jpg
what is web accessibility?

  • the Internet was originally designed as a platform independent, universal system of sharing information, irrespective of disability

  • the use of proprietary technologies and failure to properly implement World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards has led to these principles being undermined

web accessibility in education

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disability on the net

  • W3C has introduced its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and associated guidelines for content, browsers and authoring tools

  • but awareness has remained low and these are rarely followed in practice

  • arguable that the DDA and SENDA can provide the necessary impetus to increase awareness and compliance

web accessibility in education

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why consider accessibility?

  • potential legal obligations

  • commercial benefits

    • users with older equipment

    • Personal Digital Assistants, wireless devices

    • disabled community has a spending power of £33bn* in the UK alone and would perhaps benefit most from new technology

      * Source: Fairclough, Nick ‘Disability Discrimination: the October Revolution’

      SJ 1999 143(36) 878

web accessibility in education

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isn’t education exempt from the DDA?

  • excluded by virtue of s.19(5)(a)

    • grounds of cost to the tax payer

  • however the Act still applies to ancillary services

    • for example: student unions, catering

    • i.e. the ‘public’ aspects

    • logical to assume this includes institution Web sites

web accessibility in education

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does the act apply to the web?

  • The Act and its Obligations

  • Are Web site owners ‘Service Providers?’

  • Definition of Discrimination

  • Duties under the Act

web accessibility in education

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the act and its obligations

  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995:

    ‘a universal, all embracing right of non-discrimination against disabled people…applicable to all providers of goods, facilities and services to the general public’

    Minister for Social Security and Disabled People,

    Hansard, H.C. standing Committee E col. 290

web accessibility in education

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the act and its obligations

  • part III introduced on October 1 1999

  • accompanied by a Code of Practice

    • ‘fleshes out the Act’

    • provides guidance to both service providers and disabled people

    • aims to avoid legal action

    • not an authoritative statement of the law

    • but does now mention Web Accessibility

web accessibility in education

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who is a service provider?

  • ‘service provider’ is not defined in either the Act or the Code

  • non-exhaustive examples are given

    • includes ‘access to and use of information services’ (s.19(3)(c))

    • reflects drafting in a pre-Internet era

web accessibility in education

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what if the site is free?

  • irrelevant if the service is free or paid for (s.19(2) and the Code at para 2.12)

  • potentially includes marketing or promotional Web sites

  • the service is ‘provision of information’

web accessibility in education

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discrimination defined

  • s.20 -

    • A provider of services discriminates against a disabled person if

      (a) for a reason which relates to the disabled person’s disability, he treats him less favourably than he treats or would treat others to whom that reason does not or would not apply; and

      (b) he cannot show that the treatment in question is justified

web accessibility in education

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duties under the act

  • s.19(1) -

    (a) not to refuse to provide or deliberately not provide any service which he provides or is prepared to provide to the public

    (b) to comply with any s.21 duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’

web accessibility in education

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1. refusal to provide a service

  • would apply where a service provider has deliberately chosen not to make his site accessible for whatever reason

  • requires knowledge

  • very few sites cannot be made accessible

  • sums up ‘The Gap’ approach

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2. duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’

  • s.21 -

    • (1) Where a provider of services has a practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to make use of a service... it is his duty to take such steps as it is reasonable…to have to take in order to change that practice, policy or procedure so that it no longer has that effect.

web accessibility in education

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what is a reasonable adjustment?

  • is it a reasonable adjustment to rectify an inaccessible Web site?

  • main opposition is cost and work involved

  • question has been considered by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC)

web accessibility in education

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maguire v socog

  • involved a visually impaired person and the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG)

  • brought under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth DDA)

  • alleged that the official Sydney Olympics Web site was inaccessible

web accessibility in education

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maguire v socog - the issues

  • site was alleged to be inaccessible for three reasons -

    • no ALT attributes on images and image maps necessary for navigating

    • index of sports pages were inaccessible from the schedule page

    • tables used for the results were in an inaccessible form

web accessibility in education

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maguire v socog - the findings

  • The commission found that -

    • SOCOG was indeed intending to offer a service to the public by creating a Web site

    • expecting a user to type in the full Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for each page expected prior knowledge and goes against the way the Web works

    • SOCOG’s claims of unjustifiable hardship were unfounded

web accessibility in education

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unjustifiable hardship

  • SOCOG argued that it would take 368 working days and Au$2m to rectify

  • commission favoured Maguire’s expert witnesses who stated that it would take a small team about four weeks

  • reference made to W3C WAI guidelines and the continuing duty that SOCOG were under to comply with these

web accessibility in education

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relevance of maguire v socog

  • first time the WAI guidelines have been discussed in a court of law

  • have now effectively become quasi-law in Australia

  • sets a standard for interpreting accessibility

  • demonstrates that undue hardship will be strictly interpreted

web accessibility in education

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what might the uk courts say?

  • common for the UK courts to consider practice in other jurisdictions when dealing with ‘new technology’ problems

  • Maguire is likely to be held as persuasive authority by the UK courts

  • continuing obligation to review duties under the Code (para 4.9) will heighten WAI guidelines importance

web accessibility in education

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what does this mean for eduation?

  • for the public elements of their online content universities will be considered as ‘service providers’

    e.g. the ‘front page’, commercial operations, information, prospectus etc

  • will have duties under Part III of the Act

  • web site should follow the WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

web accessibility in education

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sen and disability act 2001

  • likely to come into force late 2002

  • amends the 1995 Act by inserting a new Part IV dealing with Education

  • will effectively confer similar rights upon disabled students as those available against service providers

web accessibility in education

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what does the SENDA say?

  • not to treat disabled students less favourably without justification; and

  • to make reasonable adjustments so that students are not at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled

web accessibility in education

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duties under the SENDA

  • not to discriminate in the arrangements for determining admission

  • not to discriminate in the ‘student services’ it provides or offers to provide

  • not to discriminate against a disabled student by excluding them from the institution either permanently or temporarily

web accessibility in education

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what is a student service?

  • Includes:

    • Teaching (classes, lectures, seminars, practical sessions)

    • Curriculum design

    • Examinations and assessments

    • Informal/optional study skills sessions

    • Distance learning

    • E-learning

    • Learning equipment (handouts, lab equipment)

    • Libraries, IT facilities and their resources

web accessibility in education

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web pages

  • if they provide information for students in relation to education they will be a student service

    e.g. faculty homepage with course information

  • if they do not then they will generally be ancillary services and covered by Part III of the Act (Goods and Services)

    e.g. careers page or student union homepage

web accessibility in education

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web pages – what is required?

  • interpretation of duties is likely to follow that in Part III

  • will need to be provided in an accessible form

  • W3C guidelines

    • Experience suggests Level 1 will be the minimum legal requirement

  • include ALT attributes on images, refrain from using frames etc

web accessibility in education

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e-learning environments (1)

  • e-learning and distance learning are specifically mentioned as student services

  • similar principles apply to e-learning as to Web sites

  • need to ensure that materials and resources are provided in an accessible form

web accessibility in education

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e-learning environments (2)

  • what does this mean?

    • Provide class handouts online in an accessible form (i.e. html)

    • Use accessible versions of ‘off the shelf’ products like Blackboard and WebCT

    • Provide online resources in an accessible form

      e.g. captioned video/transcripts, documents in different formats

    • Use plain text in email

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do these duties always apply?

  • generally, yes

  • however there are some justifications for discriminating

    • Adjustments must be ‘reasonable’

    • Necessary to maintain academic standards

    • Other reasons as prescribed (none as of yet)

web accessibility in education

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reasonable adjustments (1)

  • term ‘reasonable’ is undefined

  • however, inference is likely to be drawn from the interpretation under Part III of the Act and/or Maguire v SOCOG

  • but providing course information in html on Web is likely to be a more reasonable adjustment than providing the information in Braille

web accessibility in education

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reasonable adjustments (2)

  • other factors in determining ‘reasonableness’:

    • is it reasonable for that course to make it accessible?

    • is it reasonable and important to expect a particular element to be accessible?

    • is it reasonable to expect students to be accessing material outside a controlled environment?

web accessibility in education

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academic standards

  • unlikely to be relevant – difficult to justify not making web pages and/or e-learning accessible under this ground

  • might be used where an external body sets the standards for a course

    e.g. the General Medical Council, Law Society of Scotland etc

web accessibility in education

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implications of the sen and disability act

  • will be likely to mean that educational institutions will have to provide accessible web sites and teaching resources

  • online projects and materials will have to be presented/made available in an accessible form

  • will also have to provide suitable ICT

web accessibility in education

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  • duty to make reasonable adjustments comes into effect from September 2002

  • ultimate responsibility lies with the governing body of the institution

    • but individuals may be indemnifying the institution in the case of legal action

  • duties are anticipatory – should not wait until the issue arises before implementing accessibility

web accessibility in education

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final thoughts

  • very strong case for arguing that an inaccessible Web site breaches a service provider’s duty under the DDA

  • likely that a test case will be brought in the near future as public awareness increases

  • successful defence unlikely

  • will set the standard for interpretation of the new Education provisions

web accessibility in education

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further information (1)

  • Sloan, Martin ‘Web Accessibility and the DDA’ 2001(2) Journal of Information, Law and Technology


  • Sloan, Martin ‘Institutional Web sites and accessibility by the disabled’ TechDIS Website http://www.techdis.ac.uk/resources/msloan01.html and 2002 Communications Law 7(2) 49

  • Sloan, Martin ‘E-Learning and Accessibility’ TechDIS Website http://www.techdis.ac.uk/resources/msloan02/html

web accessibility in education

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Further information (2)

  • TechDIS


  • RNIB ‘See it Right’ scheme


  • W3C Web Accessibility Initiative


  • Digital Media Access Group (DMAG)


  • Martin Sloan

    email: [email protected]

web accessibility in education